Sabah stakeholders seek solutions to forced labour, child labour challenges

Challenges and best practices to address child and forced labour were discussed by a wide range of Sabah stakeholders recently.

News | 12 November 2021
Sabah DOL Director Wan Zulkfli Bin Wan Setapa gave the opening message during the event.
Over 800 representatives from the government, workers’ organizations, private sector and civil society participated in a webinar entitled “A Bright Future Ahead: Understanding and Addressing Forced Labour and Child Labour Issues” held on 5 November 2021.

The event was jointly organized by Sabah Department of Labour (DOL) and the International Labour Organization’s “From Protocol to Practice: A Bridge to Global Action on Forced Labour” (Bridge).

“The 2018 Employment Survey on Plantations of the Malaysian Government estimated that 33,600 children were child labour in Malaysia, with the highest proportion in Sabah and Sarawak,” recalled Sabah DOL Director Wan Zulkfli Bin Wan Setapa.

He further explained that both forced labour and child labour must be reported by any individuals to the authorities so they can be immediately acted upon.

Jodelen Mitra, Technical Officer for the ILO Bridge Project presented the international legal frameworks on both forced labour and child labour. She also shared sample human rights-centred approaches to address these issues such as improved legislation, enforcement and prosecution; strengthened awareness raising and advocacies; increased protection and support to victims, including migrant workers and undocumented populations, as well as enhanced partnerships.

DOL Head of Labour Standards Madzaral Sebalun explained the national and state-level legal framework on forced labour and child labour, particularly the Sabah Labour Ordinance and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Act.

Catherine Jikunan from the Malaysian Trades Union Congress presented their recommendations on how to strengthen workers’ voice in company’s operations to address forced labour and child labour. She also stressed the importance of freedom of association and how to apply this in practice, and that trade unions should be seen as partners toward sustainable business practices by the private sector.

A panel discussion was also held on ensuring due diligence in the supply chains. Taking part were Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan from the Malaysian Employers’ Federation, Thomas Lim from the East Malaysia Planters’ Association, Lynda Lim from Earthworm Foundation and Megane Chestne from Nestle. Speakers shared their experiences, challenges and sample practices on addressing forced labour and child labour.

“Better social protection, protection from discrimination and exploitation as well as decent work can only be delivered through a cross-sectoral effort by a wide range of stakeholders. This commitment is key to effectively addressing forced labour and child labour,” said Bharati Pflug, ILO Senior Specialist for Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, in her closing remarks.

According to the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery conducted in 2017, about 25 million men, women and children were trapped in forced labour at any given time: 16 million were exploited in the private sector, many working in construction, agriculture, or as domestic workers; 4.8 million were in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million in forced labour imposed by state authorities. One in four victims of modern slavery was children.

For further information, please contact:
Jodelen Mitra
Technical Officer Bridge Project

Funding is provided by the United States Department of Labor under cooperative agreement number IL-27592-15-75-K—1. 100 percentage of the total costs of the global Bridge Project is financed with Federal funds, for a total of US$17,395,138. This material does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the United States Department of Labor, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the United States Government.